iPhone 7 Leaks ‘Confirm’ Apple Abandoning Headphone Jack
19 months ago I started something. My analysis of a change in Apple AAPL -1.01%’sMFi (Made For) licensing program indicated the company had aspirations toabandon the headphone jack. Patents further illustrated its unhappiness with the 3.5mm port, then the smoke began to pour last week. Now there is potentially deal breaking news for some iPhone lovers…
A pair of sources from within Apple’s Chinese supply chain have both independently confirmed Apple will ditch the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and use the Lightning port instead.
Anzhou states the move is driven to engineer even thinner new models as well as drive users towards wireless headphones (could a mobile variant of AirPlay be on the way?). Meanwhile WeiFeng expands upon this saying Apple will introduce audio output profiles to compensate for the loss of the headphone jack with users able to setup the iPhone 7 to smartly switch between different wired and wireless output profiles depending on the scenario, location or app.
This would tie perfectly in with the multiple sources at Japan’s Portable Audio Festival in December, who reported Apple is in discussions to add support for super high resolution audio to Apple Music but limit it solely for use with headphones that connect using the Lightning port. That sounds very Apple.
The Bait And Switch
Of course in abandoning something so beloved as the 3.5mm headphone jack (part of a standard which has been around since 1878 – yes really, 1878!), Apple has to offer enough bait for the switch – especially given the iPhone is its most important product line.
This looks set to be delivered in five ways: the aforementioned high res audio reserved specifically for Lightning port headphones, the long awaited addition of wireless charging so charging is still possible while using headphones as well as a bigger battery and thinner design – the space for both being found from losing the headphone jack inside the phone. It is also hotly rumoured that losing the 3.5mm jack will enable Apple to make the iPhone 7 completely waterproof.
Sway customers and Apple gains another differentiator from the competition, a massive new licensing arm for Lightning headphones and a great lock-in for all users who buy Lightning headphones since switching to a rival gains a significant new pain point.
Then again it remains a huge gamble. Since the launch of the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, sales of Apple’s flagship models have fallen for the first time while both Nikkei and the WSJ report Apple has requested a 30% cut in iPhone production during January to March. The near confirmation of an iPhone 6S Mini may prop things up in the short term, but if losing the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 alienates enough users (and there are already petitions against its removal) the move could backfire in spectacular style.
The flipside to this is the smartphone market is getting close to saturation and massive annual increases in handset sales are unlikely to continue. Furthermore ever more capable yet affordable smartphones coming to market which may actually be making Apple more nervous than the more traditional flagship rivals. With this in mind the extra lock-in value of getting users buying Lightning jack headphones could prove a stroke of genius.
And of course ditching established standards is nothing new to Apple. Floppy disks, CD drives and with its 12-inch MacBook, every port other than the new USB Type-C have been tossed out when Apple was ready to move on. The notion of high risk, high reward has been a hallmark of Apple success in the past, and now – if the increasing number of leaks are indeed correct – Tim Cook appears confident of pulling this off yet again…